Op-Ed: Augmented Contact Lenses – Another massive white elephant, a major health hazard, or what?

Under Peggy Johnson, Magic Leap turned to the development of augmented reality glasses for professionals, including surgeons – Copyright AFP CARLOS COSTA

The hype over augmented contact lenses is already at a ridiculous level. This is unapplied technology, and its real value is highly questionable. On the other hand, there is a carrot for the visually impaired, like me.

A lot of money is revolving around this technology, and the probable dangers of money in new technology are obvious. Apple, Mojo Vision and others are already well advanced. That said, we’re talking billions, and the new iPhone-like premium price tag should go with those billions.

Maybe not that bad in some ways. I have enough respect for the engineers at Apple to think they are going to come up with something that is at least technologically respectable and functional. Mojo’s ideas also seem more interesting than “niche”. Good, efficient and reliable vision improvement is unlikely to cause many complaints. … With the possible exception of the prices of small essential technological items to lose instantly, etc.

OK for now, but there are problems.

Now let’s make a connection between technology, improved eyesight, and a major potential health problem. Contact lenses can be problematic; big problem, in fact, as I know from experience:

  • Protein can accumulate there very quickly and easily. This protein can be destructive, affect the way the lens works and cause eye problems.
  • Cases of fungal infections linked to contact lenses don’t make reading enjoyable either. These infections can cause loss of sight.
  • Focal length issues certainly impact all types of contact lenses and wearers over time.
  • Conjunctivitis would be a really horrible experience to wear these things. Could also cause damage and cause repeated infections as this disease is notorious for its recurrence.

So a set of constant wear, heavy-use augmented contact lenses isn’t necessarily a sauce. These risks are endemic; unless you can fully prove them against these biohazards, these are real potential problems.

Functionality? Maybe, but I’m not convinced.

I just watched an augmented contact lens wellness video and have no doubts that it is definitely not. The somewhat tired images from neural networks notwithstanding, the image of fine-tipped police information on the retina does not inspire. The possibility of seeing people in other countries also doesn’t act as some kind of sales aphrodisiac.

Even less impressive is the fact that peripheral vision must be ignored to look at the augmented images, which are right in the center. I’m sure engineers and ophthalmologists have thought about it, but consumers haven’t. It is a security risk, beyond theory. If people can’t avoid cars when looking at their phones, what about contact lenses?

The feeling I have is that these things could be worse nuisances than the Eternal Phone Interruption culture that we all admire so much. “Another very intrusive gadget” is the default answer.

It’s about repackaging old technology in portable form. Some of them might be useful, but 24 hours a day? No thanks.

Increased what, exactly? Baked beans with links?

Augmented Reality, or AR as we originally called it, is meant to do something useful. GPS-style AR is useful, of course. Now what else do you have? AR, meanwhile, is still showing all the ephemeral signs of Pokémon Go a few years ago. Adding more fluff to reality isn’t necessarily a good business move.

Instead of cartoon characters, you get real people. So what? A mundane environment with or without augmentation is always a mundane environment. Crossing roads could also be a problem, as with Pokémon Go.

There are enough idiots stuck on the phone with no more options for empty people. Apparently no one wants or needs to get away from interruptions?

Difficult to agree with this point of view, pun intended. No one has time for everything that goes through a digital source. There is a kind of Moore’s Law on technology, other than the famous one. It is the law of growing technological nuisances. The usual trend is more inputs over time. So bad AR contact lenses could get cluttered quite easily, with the AR equivalent of email spam.

A little balance

To be strictly fair to AR technology, there are some major possible benefits:

  • Emergency alerts and contact links.
  • Updates on COVID-type health and safety risks.
  • Personal follow-up of people requiring care.
  • Effective and non-intrusive interactions with businesses, as customer or seller.
  • Any type of personal private notification system preferred, fast and non-intrusive.

What I’m saying is it’s not going to be easy. It is also not likely to be cheap at first. The hype could lead to a lot of wasted investment money and a truly horrible UX. Not the best for new technologies of all kinds. Interesting, yes. Convincing, at this point, nothing like it.

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